Netanyahu trial: Tycoons knew all cigars, champagne for ex-PM - limo driver

Netanyahu allegedly received NIS 267,254 (about $75,000) from Milchin in cigars and NIS 184,448 (about $52,000) worth of champagne, in addition to jewelry items for his wife, Sara, from 2011 to 2016.

Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The public corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the Jerusalem District Court restarted on Monday after recessing for the High Holy Days with the testimony of limo driver Yonatan Hasson in Case 1000, the “Illegal Gifts Affair.”

Hasson was the driver for tycoon Arnon Milchin and handled many of his deliveries of expensive cigars and champagne, and those of another tycoon, James Packer, to the Netanyahu family.

According to the prosecution, Netanyahu’s acceptance of these expensive gifts was a breach of public trust. Some of the prosecution team worked toward a bribery charge, especially because the former prime minister at least tried to assist Milchin in various business pursuits.

For his part, Netanyahu said the gifts were given out of friendship and denied criminal wrongdoing.

 LIKUD PARTY head Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 3. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) LIKUD PARTY head Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 3. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

What is Netanyahu's Illegal Gifts Affair?

Netanyahu allegedly received NIS 267,254 (about $75,000) from Milchin in cigars and NIS 184,448 (about $52,000) worth of champagne, in addition to jewelry items for his wife, Sara, from 2011 to 2016.

He and his family also received another NIS 229,174 (about $64,500) in champagne and cigars from Milchin associate and billionaire Packer between 2014 and 2016.

During his testimony, Hasson said that Milchin and Packer were “100%” aware of the large amounts of expensive gifts that he was delivering to the Netanyahus at their request.

While Packer was generally aware of the details but less familiar with them, Milchin was aware of almost every shekel he spent for the Netanyahus, Hasson said.

In addition, the driver testified about personally interacting with both the former prime minister and his wife, Sara, on occasion, when they would direct him where to place and unload the expensive gifts.

He said he knew that the cigars were specifically “meant for Mr. Netanyahu.”

Regarding the cigars, he said that the Cohiba Cuban cigars could run as high as NIS 400 ($112) per cigar, while a whole order of different kinds of cigars and other items could easily hit NIS 8,000 ($2,250).

Next, he said that he had driven to the prime minister’s Balfour residence around 15 times to make deliveries, which did not include a number of deliveries to the Netanyahus’ private residence in Caesarea.

Hasson kept the focus on the cigars and champagne, saying that only in rare instances did he see gifts of fancy coats or fancy purses. However, he did add that in one instance, a $45,000 item of jewelry was bought for Sara. Since this item is larger than the total of jewelry items in the original charges, the court, at some point, will need to decide whether to allow its full value into evidence.

In terms of how he received his directives, Hasson said that Milchin’s chief aide, Hadas Kline, would usually give him instructions about deliveries, often mentioning that the items were requested by Sara.

There were some instances where he was given direct orders from Milchin or Packer.

Hasson is expected to be cross-examined by the defense on Tuesday.